One of the state’s most notable athletes is Boo Ferriss. Boo was the outstanding pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the forties. Whenever Mississippians are polled and asked to list their favorite native sons who played professional sports, Boo Ferriss and Ole Miss’ Archie Manning – both from the Mississippi Delta – are at the top of the list.
Boo is now 90 years old and of course when people give him a pat on the back about this, he laughs it right off. Boo is one of the most humble people you will ever meet and he looks 20 years younger than his actual age.
Born and raised in the small Delta town of Shaw, Boo became the first baseball player to receive a full scholarship to Mississippi State University. He was the pitcher for MSU in 1941 and ’42. Immediately, he was discovered by several professional baseball scouts and he was signed by the Boston Red Sox in 1942. Boo helped take the 1946 Red Sox to the World Series where he pitched a 4 – 0 win against the St. Louis Cardinals.
He set many records during his professional baseball career. However, arm problems forced Boo into early retirement and he became the pitching coach for the Red Sox in the mid fifties. After that, Boo returned home and became the head baseball coach for Delta State.
At DSU, Boo built their baseball program from the ground up and guided DSU to a 639-387 record and three appearances in the NCAA Division II College World Series before he retired in 1988. The Delta State baseball field bears his name.
He is a member of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame, the Delta State Sports Hall of Fame, Mississippi State Sports Hall of Fame, and the American Baseball Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
And on November 14, 2002, he was inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame.
At 90, Boo continues to be a tireless supporter at all levels of baseball throughout the state and especially his beloved Delta State University Statesmen. In 2003, the Ferriss Trophy was established and it is awarded annually to the top college baseball player in the state.
Another interesting tidbit to Boo’s coaching career is the story of one of Mississippi’s famous residents who once tried out for Boo’s DSU team.
One day, Boo received a call from a young man who wanted to play baseball at DSU under him. Boo told the young man to come to DSU and that he would try him out with the DSU baseball team. The day arrived and the young man came to Cleveland and made a less than stellar tryout. Boo informed the youngster that a career in baseball was not for him and that the young man should consider another occupation.
That young man was writer, John Grisham! Today, they are close friends and often laugh about this moment. In fact, Grisham came to DSU two years ago and held a fundraiser for the baseball program, of course with Boo right by his side. Grisham also wrote the foreword in Rick Cleveland’s book simply called, “Boo”.
While Boo has many memories of his time with the Red Sox, I asked him to give me a couple. In fact, I had to push him to tell me a few of his most interesting moments when he was playing for the Red Sox.
“First, I loved pitching in Fenway Park, baseball’s most lovable park, before the greatest fans in the world.”
He also says “Well, Jack Kennedy was a big Red Sox fan. He loved Ted Williams, so he often came to the games. He would come down in the dugout and talk to Ted and all of us. He was a very nice person. One night the coaches of our team were treated to dinner at a restaurant there in Boston and in the next room to where we were eating there was a group of men coming and going. I asked someone what the commotion was all about and they said, ‘Jack Kennedy is going to run for president and he is in there planning his campaign.’”
Boo also recalls when one of the greatest baseball players of all time was attending a game at Fenway Park. “I recognized the one and only Babe Ruth,” he says, “so I got a baseball and he signed it for me.”
Boo says another memory that stands out took place at a game in New York on Labor day in 1946. “We were battling the Yankees before a crowd of 73,000, and I was awed by the noise and the tumult. In the middle of the game I stepped off the mound and looked at the tremendous crowd. I thought to myself, nothing can be better than this. I’m a small town 24-year-old boy pitching for the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium, and every seat is taken.”
Part of Boo’s daily schedule, is opening and returning fan requests such as autographs, signed baseballs and photos which he receives from all over the nation.
“I answer and return every one of them,” says Boo. “If they think well of me and still remember me, I feel obligated to answer their mail.”
Boo is often called on to conduct tours of the Boo Ferriss Museum: A Life in Baseball at the Delta State baseball field.